Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

Eating Edmonton: The Sugarbowl Bar & Cafe

For a long time, The Sugarbowl has been one of the most hyped up places in Edmonton. Located in the Garneau area near the University of Alberta, it has long been a place where students congregate for food and drinks to discuss whatever class they are taking this semester, or what class they are skipping in order to have food and drinks at The Sugarbowl.

It has been a long time since I have visited this Edmonton establishment, since I was one of those University students. We used to go there frequently for class during one of my summer courses. There were only five of us in the class, plus we had the best professor ever.

sugar3Going there again, it is nice to see that it is exactly the same as it used to be on the inside. For a sort of hole-in-the-wall type of place, it is actually quite nice inside, and has a pretty good patio out front, where they really cram in the tables. There is much more space inside, and you still get the outside feel with the large garage doors almost always open during the summer.

The Sugarbowl is like the grandfather of the hipster-style craft beer pub, simply because it has seemingly been around forever, while these new places (like Craft, Beer Revolution, Three Boars, The Next Act) are new to the scene that was basically created by the Sugarbowl.

This pub is known for its good food and extensive beer menu. Always has been. And still is. You can read the reviews on other sites, like Yelp, and see the generally positive recounts of time spent there.

The menu itself is minimalist, which is nice. There are only a few items on there, and they cook all of them extremely well. This is not a place where you have to scroll though a thick menu and struggle to decide what you would like to eat. There is a list of perhaps a dozen meals, and all of them sound pretty enticing.

sugar2As for the beer menu, it is indeed pretty extensive. Prices have gone up since the last time I was there, and now they are a little more in line with the other craft beer houses in the city, although I would argue, are still a little cheaper. There is perhaps a dozen beers on tap, but the real gems come from the lists of bottled beers that they have. There are a lot, and you could get pretty indecisive when it comes to making a choice here. There are selections from local breweries, as well as small breweries from other places, such as Portland (of course). I did pretty well at selecting some good beers to try. And the prices weren’t totally crippling, like they are at Craft.

The vibe inside is unique. During the day, it remains a place that is popular with families, as it is not a total bar, like some other craft beer places have become. There are definitely the “artsy” people who frequent the place, and it is a hipster joint as well. It is a nice blending of people here.

The staff are generally quick and fairly attentive, no complaints there. I had the bison chili, which was pretty delicious. It had a good amount of heat to it, but nothing overwhelming, and it was definitely hearty. I was full all day off one bowl of it. I would definitely eat it again.

I like this place, and would definitely go there again. My bill was about $60 for two people, both with meals and several beers. Not the cheapest place you will find in Edmonton, but something different from the standard chain restaurants that we too often choose. The Sugarbowl feels like a cool place that you would find in a bigger, cooler city than Edmonton.

A great place to grab some food and drinks. I agree with the hype, and the Sugarbowl is still a cool place to go.

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Eating Edmonton: Craft Beer Market

Eating Edmonton: Craft Beer Market

It’s hard not to love all of the places opening up in Edmonton that specialize in good food and good beer. Because, food and beer are some of my favorite things in the world.

It took me a lot longer to get out to Craft than I would have expected, especially with its convenient downtown location, right across the street from the Sherlock Holmes pub. Well, it is convenient if you actually manage to get parking downtown without having to pay and arm and a leg for it. But this is less of a problem in the evening, once the workday crowd has mostly dispersed. Still, don’t expect to get one of the very few spots right across from Craft. Plan to walk a few blocks.

craft2First off, the space that Craft has is incredible. It is very large, two floors, and has recently opened their rooftop patio for the summer months. The space is very open, spacious, and tastefully decorated. It has the feeling of a beer hall, but classier, not unlike other establishments of this ilk.

The staff are pretty quick, friendly, and attentive, and you are greeted warmly upon entering the building. There are various table sizes, which is a nice option depending on the size of your group, with tables and booths aplenty.

One of the most impressive things about the place is the kegs of beer everywhere. If you accidentally wander down the wrong staircase trying to find the washroom, as I did, you will get to the basement level that includes a room with hundreds upon hundreds of kegs of beer in it. Momentarily, I believed it to be heaven. You can also see the beer on the main and upper floor, as it is contained in glass rooms, similar to how it is in Beer Revolution in Oliver Square.

The food at Craft is good. As is expected now, they have a full and interesting menu of what I call Pub Grub+. Typical fare for this kind of place, but it is really tasty, and not simply sloppy chicken wings. It actually took our group a while to decide on what to eat, because there was definitely more than one enticing option. Pretty much every appetizer sounded delicious. But we had to restrain ourselves.

As for the beer selection, well, it is probably second-to-none in Edmonton. I believe there are over 100 beers on tap, and they are changed regularly. This is awesome. It can be difficult to navigate the beer menu, simply because there are just so many to choose from, and it can become quite overwhelming, if you don’t really know what you want. The servers are very knowledgeable about what they serve, so don’t hesitate to ask about a certain beer, or describe what you are looking for. They will be able to help you out with that, which is always nice.

Because of its food and drink, Craft would seem like a place that could become a home away from home for me. But for one thing: the prices.

I get it. Craft beer is all the rage. Pub Grub+ food is all the rage. And you can expect to pay for quality. I don’t mind paying for quality.

But Craft Beer Market has priced itself out for me. This cannot be a place where my friends and I hang out for an evening and sample different beers. I would go broke, especially when the majority of beers at Craft are over $9.

$9!!

While the food prices are only slightly above average in comparable pubs, it is the drinks that will absolutely destroy your bank account. This makes Craft a perfect place to come after work for a meal and a beer, but little more than that. Sadly, I am not a one beer type of person, and the price just adds up far too quickly for me. It would be great to be able to spend some time there, and sample a lot of the different beers that they have to offer, since it is such an amazing selection, but I don’t feel like selling my car just yet. I feel that the high prices are actually a detriment to the sampling of new beers, simply because I am nervous about spending $9.25 on something I have never tried before. If it isn’t very good, then that is a large waste of money, when I could have just been smarter, and gone for the $8.25 Sapporo that I know is good.

Me complaining about it won’t change the prices, and from what I’ve heard, Craft has been very successful since its opening in Edmonton, which is great. It continues to be nice to see downtown being revitalized with new places all the time, creating a place that is good for the older crowd that has mostly tired of Whyte Ave.

Craft is great, if you have the money.

Eating Edmonton: The Common

Eating Edmonton: The Common

Downtown, on 109th street, one of the many newest places to eat and drink in Edmonton is The Common. Not the hugest restaurant/bar around, The Common does very well to use all of its space properly, to get as many people in there, while still maintaining a level of comfort and not getting terribly overcrowded.

The best things about The Common, and one that sets it apart from other new, hipster-ish places downtown, are the prices. They are actually reasonable. If you manage to hit happy hour (prior to 6PM during the week), you will get $2 off pints of beer, which is a pretty solid deal. And to begin, their beers aren’t nearly as expensive as an alternative, such as Craft Beer Market. There is a decent selection of drinks available, including a personal, and hipster, favorite, of having Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap. It’s just so good!

common2The food is also quite good there. It is a tad expensive, but it is similar to other places of this ilk. Pub grub plus. The usual stuff, but it is far better, and more high-end. Something like the short rib poutine will definitely hit the spot, and for a price that won’t destroy your wallet.

The Common has a cool vibe to it, good design (the two sides of the bar seem to be different places, and tend to have a different feel), friendly wait staff, and usually quick service, regardless of how busy it gets.

The patio is small, and on the 109th side of the street, which makes it pretty noisy, but it is still nice, allowing us to get outside in our incredibly short summer season. There aren’t many tables out there, only one row of picnic tables, that can accommodate four people each. There doesn’t seem to get more people in there if you have a larger group, unless you really want to squish into those tables.

Overall, The Common is a top choice among downtown establishments that are focused on grabbing the attention and business of those who like beer, a variety of beer, and decent food at prices that won’t slaughter them for the month.

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Eating Boston: Cask n’ Flagon

Part of the Boston experience is so uniquely intertwined with the Boston Red Sox experience. You need to try and take it all in, in one of the cities that truly is a baseball-first place. In a massive market like Boston, there are plenty of sporting options. The Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, Revolution, all take their draws from the citizens of the city.

But no draw compares to the popularity of the Red Sox.

Based on this, the Fenway area of Boston is one that must be visited when in town. A big part of this, are the sports bars that surround the legendary Fenway Park, the largest being the Cask n’ Flagon.

caskThe Cask n’ Flagon does what sports bars are supposed to do. It offers a wide selection of bar food, and a really strong list of beers to keep you entertained while the game is on the multitude of TVs placed around the bar.

First, a couple of negatives from my trip there.

  • The lines are really long on game days. Be aware of that if you plan to go when the Sox are playing at home. I was there when they were on the road, so it wasn’t an issue.
  • The TVs aren’t as big as they should have, or could have been. For a bar that thrives on sports, there should be some monster screens in there, in my opinion.
  • The staff couldn’t seem to figure out how to get the Red Sox game on. Seriously? The place was packed with people, there specifically to watch the game. And it took them nearly an inning to figure out which channel it was on, and how to get their TVs to the right place.
  • We ordered some wings. They forgot to place that order. After watching tables around us get the food they ordered, and an hour having passed, we finally asked about them. Our waiter was very apologetic, and we did get our wings. On the house. With some extra wings on there. This is excellent service, and they more than corrected their mistake.

Some of the good.

  • They fixed their mistake, and not having to pay for the wings was an added bonus.
  • The wings were actually incredibly delicious and filling.
  • Very good beer selection, especially for a sports bar. And quite reasonably priced.
  • Huge establishment, with tons of seating to help deal with their game day crowds.
  • A fairly attentive staff, definitely friendly.

The Cask n’ Flagon does not merit a special trip or anything, but if you are in the area, it is a good, sports-centric place to pop in for a beer and a snack, maybe before or after a game, or when the Sox are on the road and you want to watch the game surrounded by their fans.

Eating Boston: Cheers

Eating Boston: Cheers

Of course, as a tourist in Boston, you want to go where everybody knows your name.

As one of the main spots on the tourist trail in the city, it speaks volumes about the lasting impression that the TV seriesĀ Cheers had on people. It was one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, and people still love it.

cheersThe exteriors of the show are based on the Bull and Finch pub in the Boston Back Bay area, and walking up to it, it looks exactly as it did on the TV show. The insides, however, are not the same. Even though the Bull and Finch has officially changed its name to Cheers, it is not the same bar when you walk inside, but you should know that before going in. There is a replica bar elsewhere in the city. This is just the place that served as the inspiration for the show. Walking down the stairs, you hear the theme song to the show. Not just in your head, but actually. They have it playing constantly down the stairs, so you definitely know where you are.

It is still a really good bar, though. Of course, we sat up at the bar, next to the spot that has been deemed “Norm’s spot.” There is a nice selection of local beers here, along with some regular American classics that you see everywhere else. The food is pretty basic, all named after characters from the show, but it tastes good. It is definitely your average bar fare, as Cheers was supposed to be the average American bar.

cheers2There is a good atmosphere inside the place, which is much smaller than I remember it being from a previous trip to Boston. There is a good crowd (mainly tourists, of course), and it really is a good place to go for a pint or two after work, or after a day of touring around the city. The prices are fair, and thankfully not over-inflated knowing that the majority if the patronage is from out of town and looking to have a drink at a place made so famous by the long running TV series.

The staff was very friendly, and efficient. Our bartender was fast at refilling our drinks, and engaging in regular bar conversation.

Overall, Cheers is a good place to go, and for fans of the show, you definitely need to stop in and have a beer.

Eating Edmonton: The Underground

Eating Edmonton: The Underground

The idea of The Underground is awesome. Why not use a large, downtown basement space, and turn it into a bar? Sounds like a plan to me. It seems like the entrance to an LRT station, with the escalators going below the building on Jasper Ave and 100th Street.

The entrance.
The entrance.

The space is quite nice down there, with a lot more room than I had anticipated. The washrooms are very large and spacious, which is nice after a few beers. You don’t want to be elbowing your way around in there, accidentally making some new friends for the wrong reasons.

There are a few positives and some negatives about this tap house.

Some of the good:

  • The beer selection is great. There is tons to choose from, and all of their beers are on levels (like the 100-level, 200-level, etc), which seems to go in order of either price or alcohol content. Or maybe neither. But they are on levels!
  • The descriptions of the beers are very accurate. Finally, they had someone who really knows beer taste them and write about them. I was surprised at how accurate the descriptions were to the taste of the drink.
  • I tried four different beers that I had never had before, and all of them were delicious. No disappointments for me.
  • The appetizers are good. Our group shared a couple of appetizers, the vegan fritters (kind of tasted like overcooked McDonald’s hash browns- meaning they were good) and the bacon-wrapped scallops (you could wrap anything in bacon and they would be good- these were particularly tasty, and it came with a pretty good slaw). The fritters cost about $12, as did the scallops (for 4 of them).
  • The main course is something a little different. I had a chicken apple sandwich. Pretty good, and fresh tasting. I got it without guacamole, because I hate it, but that would have added more flavour. The chicken itself was average, there wasn’t much done to it that would be different anywhere else, but overall, it was a tasty sandwich. Also, the fries were really good.
  • The clientele. Not as hipster as I would have thought. Usually, the newer downtown bars have become hipster central in Edmonton, but this place was pretty good. A nice place for the 25-35 crowd to go to.
  • Space between tables. I really don’t like it when they are all packed together, and you have to dodge chairs and arms to move anywhere.
  • The music. While there were a couple of times when it veered to a techno vibe that was not needed, the majority of the songs played were a nice collection of 90’s hits, which is perfect for the age group of the patrons. No force feeding of amped up pop hits here, which is nice.

undergroundroomSome of the bad:

  • Parking. Being right on Jasper, options are limited. The cheapest place is to park in the confusing, and busy, library garage. It was $5 on the weekend after 5PM. I hate paying for parking, any time, any where, so I found this inconvenient. The only other places are an impark lot nearby. There really is no street parking that is close.
  • The cost. I found The Underground to be very expensive. My evening cost me close to $100, which for a sandwich, split appetizers and a few beers, is too much for this guy. I found that there were lots of beers I would have tried out, but the cost slowed me down. I find it hard to justify paying $9 for a pint. No matter how good the beer is. The “cheaper” options will run you about $7 a pop, which is a little better, but then you are getting smaller pints. I get it, that this is the craze for these craft-style beer places. I knew the prices going in, but was still surprised at how much I ended up spending.
  • It’s hot in there. Being underground, with no windows, it definitely heated up to nearly uncomfortable levels by the end of the evening, when the bar was full. I hope they have a solid A/C system for the summer months.
  • The decor was nice, but I think with that space, it could have been a lot cooler, and they could have played up the whole “underground” thing. I am no interior decorator, and they made a nice looking bar down there, but I feel it could have been taken further.

Overall, a cool place to hang out for the evening. I would definitely go back, although the prices are prohibitive for me. It would be a place to go for a quick pint and a little bit to eat. Not the kind of place I can afford to spend an entire evening in again, however. For those who have a little better cash flow than myself, The Underground is a good place for eats and drinks.

Eating Edmonton: Ale Yard Tap & Grill

The Ale Yard has some good things about it, and some that make it seem as though this place is doomed to failure, as was its location predecessor, Don Cherry’s. While this pub and grub spot seems to have an ideal location, at 13310 137th Ave in Edmonton, it really isn’t. It is on a main drag, and it really isn’t that close to a large residential population, which makes it more of a place to stop on the way home for a pint and a bite, instead of a place where you will spend the whole evening. Now, this does afford it some charms, such as it really is never that busy, allowing for fast and friendly service from a great wait staff (they really are awesome, and they take the time to know their regulars. Even new waitresses will come and introduce themselves if you are recognized as a frequent visitor), but it lacks the party atmosphere of a more Whyte Ave type of pub, if that’s what you’re looking for.

ale yardThe food at Ale Yard is as typically pub grub as you can imagine. The food is standard, and tastes like you would expect. It is no different from anywhere else in the city. However, they do have some of the best french fries, and for some reason, the chicken fingers from their appetizer menu are particularly delicious. Also, they have solid chicken wings, with some inventive flavors that are actually pretty good. These include tandori chicken, and butter chicken. Doesn’t seem right, but they are pretty damn good. Aside from that, you won’t find anything new here. You get what you pay for, and you get what you expect.

The drink menu is a strong point for the bar, one that I feel needs to be built up more. They have a great selection of beers, ranging from your standards, to a decent import list, to a strong selection of local “Premium” beers. The prices are fairly normal, but it is best on a Thursday, where half-pints are only $2. Otherwise it can get a little silly paying $6.75 for a pint of Keiths.

ale-yard-tab-and-grillIt seems apparent that the Ale Yard is too big of a place for its operation. I feel it would be better served if it were cut in half, and they avoided some trappings of the neighborhood bar, like karaoke night. Dump it. It doesn’t get the crowd any bigger, and when looking for a calm pub, it kind of ruins that atmosphere. Don’t try to be a dance bar on the weekends. Just because there is loud music, it doesn’t mean that people are going to pack a dance floor. They don’t. And a dance bar is not what the area needs. Ale Yard should be focused on competing with other beer-centric places, such as Beer Revolution or Kraft. The Ale Yard really can’t decide who it is, and its identity is one of throwing many things against the wall and hoping that something sticks. For a real boost, they need to cut the size, focus on improving their food to the point where it is something different and original, and then I feel they would be a stronger draw. It is a good place to hang out, but it could be better.

I’ve checked out many of the reviews for the Ale Yard on Yelp, and notice that many of them are negative. And even though this is a place I like, I can’t disagree with them. Although I have always received great service, to the point where some waitresses know my friends and I by name and will often sit for a quick chat, there are times I could see them being too slow for some customers based on how packed the place is(n’t). Many of the reviews comment on the food, which I agree with. But this is a pub. I don’t expect anything more than standard fare. And the prices are average, not the best. You just have to know to hit the deals on certain nights of the week, and it comes out being reasonable.

When it comes down to it, the Ale Yard is a good place to hang out, have a couple of beers and a snack. If you go in expecting something amazing, you may be disappointed. For a regular pub, it pretty much ticks all of the boxes.